Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pigshit: DWIGHT TWILLEY [1985]

By Gary Pig Gold / FFanzeen, 1985
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet

This article/interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #5, dated 1985, by music Renaissance man, Gary Pig Gold.

If you grew up in the early punk movement anywhere around the Toronto / Mississauga / Hamilton (Ontario) hub, you knew who Gary Pig Gold was / is, and his fanzine, The Pig Paper. Gary is not only a writer, but also produces records and was/is a musician in such bands as The Loved Ones, Ghost Rockets, Dave Rave Conspiracy and most recently The Next Big Thing alongside his old pal from The Cheepskates, Shane Faubert. I have the pleasure to call him my friend, even though we don’t get the chance to hang out much lately, being 2000 miles apart.

Through the later years of FFanzeen, Gary had his own column called "Pigshit," which also ran in many other zines worldwide and still appears monthly online. I've long-stated that Gary is one of the better writers of rock history, especially about his own favorites such as the Beach boys, the Monkees, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Elvis. His work at this moment appears alongside an all-star cast of musicians and movers in Harvey Kubernik's massive 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love book from Sterling Publishing. Definitely check out more of his writing at - Robert Barry Francos, 2017.

As much as we’d love to forever blot it from our ears, there was music being produced, released and even broadcast during the post-Creedence, pre-Ramones wasteland known today as the mid-1970s. Like many other now forms of pure pop, I filled those dreaded years backtracking thru pop’s past via the neighbourhood Kmart cut-out bins, and today sport an entire bedroom covered in milk crates full of albums ($1.90 or less!) with holes drilled thru the covers to show for my efforts… (Well, it was either that or spend circa ’71-’75 watching “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” and lining up for Who tickets…)

But suddenly one day, a song appeared which effectively jolted me out of my Delete Zone exile and hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, there was still intelligent life left in the music bizness: a hook-studded gem, which effortlessly rode up the charts atop a bedtrack cocky enough to spare it from a fate worse than Manilow (sorry ABBA). The song in question? “I’m On Fire,” by someone – or something- called The Dwight Twilley Band. Sure, I was a fan of the Hollies-Revisited strains of (The) Raspberries, not to mention the bozo-rock of the N.Y. Dolls, but Twilley’s ditty made an impression for reasons other than nostalgia or camp: it was the first evidence in godknowshowlong of that elusive creature known as The Perfect Hit Single. Imagine my jubilation when, after rushing to my local disc shop for the first time since the Raiders broke up, I discovered an entire album of Twilley in the racks – his classic debut LP Sincerely. Listening to this stunner today is akin to takin’ a crash-course in trends-to-come: the cheesy electropop of “Could Be Love,” the Edmunds-as-Spector lush of “You Were So Warm,” the mop-topped Rutle-rock of “Three Persons.” Even the suede-o crockabilly of “TV.” Could it be at all possible that the likes of Martin Rushent [d. 2011 – RBF], Nick Lowe, Dougie Fieger [of The Knack, d. 2010 - RBF] and Brian Setzer never heard and duly absorbed this record prior to launching their own assaults upon the Top 40? I sincerely doubt it.

Several years and one New Wave later (Dec. ’79 to be exact), I found myself in Southern California for my first of several hunts for the ghost of Brian Wilson. It was then and there that I chanced upon a surprise Twilley gig at the scenic Golden Bear club in scenic Huntington Beach (where, speaking of the ‘60s, Peter Tork was once employed as a dishwasher). By this point, Dwight had already lost one record company (Shelter, due to bankruptcy), one record contract (with Arista, due to the lackluster sales of his smash second album, Twilley Don’t Mind), and even one-half of his band (when his long-time cohort, Phil Seymour, buggered off for a short-lived career as Orange County’s answer to Shaun Cassidy). Not surprisingly, the show that night was a slick, bitter affair – it seemed Twilley spent most of his set screaming at the soundman for “more fuckin’ Elvis Sun Sessions reverb on my fuckin’ mike.” Afterwards, I crawled back to my motel room mightily disillusioned as Dwight spent the next several years slowly burying himself beneath the scrap heap of Next-Big-Things-From-L.A. alongside the likes of The Loved Ones (thanks for the plug, Robert Barry! – GPG 1985), 20/20 and The Plimsouls (whilst nurturing a quite unhealthy SCUBA diver fetish).

I was probably as shocked as Mr. Twilley himself when last summer, he released a bitchin’ new platter entitled Jungle, which came complete with a single smasheroo of even ultra-“I’m On Fire” proportions (the lethally-catchy “Girls”). And once again, as if on some sort of cosmic cue, I found myself in scenic Vancouver stumbling one night upon, in the far-from scenic Nite Lites club, another surprise Dwight Twilley gig! Bluffing myself onto the guest list as West Coast stringer for FFanzeen (“FFanzeen?” “Oh, yeah, it’s a very big mag back East – sorta like Circus…”) and bluffing my mini-recorder past the bouncer in true Rock ‘n’ Roll High School style (…“It’s a hearing aid, okay?”), I sat thru one of the most sweaty sets of sounds since Destroy All Monsters opened for The Young Fresh Fellows – with just the right amount of reverb on the mike! Afterwards, what else could I do but BS my way backstage (“FFanzeen?” “Yeah – it’s gonna take up where Trouser Press left off…”) to interview The Man Himself.

Dwight Twilley? Can I have a few words?
Oh… just a couple, okay? We’re on our way back to the room to watch some old Elvis videos…

I last saw you perform five years ago in California, and the improvement since then seems practically incomprehensible!
Well, we’re touring more nowadays, and I’ve got a better band nowadays. Plus, back then, I could never get enough reverb on the mike.

Yes, I know. Also, “Girls” I think is your strongest song in ages. However… I can’t help but detect the ghost of Brian Wilson running through it.
Oh? How’s that?

The riff in “Girls” sounds exactly like the riff in “Dance, Dance, Dance”!
Yeah? Well, I think The Beach Boys suck!

Hmm… Who do you think you’ve been influenced by?

Uh-huh. And who else?
Scotty and Bill.

Elvis’ guitarist and bass player?
You bet.

Who else besides Elvis do you admire musically?
(Extended silent pause)

I see.
What magazine’d you say this was for?

(Blank stare)

It’s sort of like the vintage old New York Rocker was back in its heyday. You remember New York Rocker, don’t you?

Anyways… Whatever became of your old partner, Phil Seymour?
Not a hell of a lot! (Laughs) I think the only time he works now is when I let him sing a spot or two on my records. Phil missed his calling, you see, when ABC refused to cast him alongside Parker Stevenson in “The Hardy Boys” TV series. I’m afraid it’s been all downhill for ol’ Phil ever since.

Your band seems to be getting along real fine without him.
Yeah… but something’s lacking in our rhythm section, I think.

Who would be your ideal drummer then?
D.J. Fontana.

Elvis’ drummer.
You bet.

Not to change the subject any, but who would you consider to be your idea girl?
Hmm… Probably a cross between Natalie Wood and Ann-Margret. [PIGOSSIP #1: Dwight is actually married to none other than Susie Cowsill – she of “Indian Lake” and “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” fame – GPG, 1985]

How about your favorite food?
Hey! What is this? I thought you were from Fan Scene [sic – 1985], not Tiger Beat! Uhh… favorite food… Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And cheeseburgers – double cheeseburgers – on the road.

What’s the one song you’re most proud of?
Oh… “Don’t Be Cruel.”

No, no… I mean of your own!
Well, that’s a pretty tough one… I’d like to think Scuba Divers is my strongest album overall, as well as being my all-time poorest seller (smirk). You see, each of my records has its own set of circumstances and stories… and lawsuits… and nervous disorders… behind it. I mean, if it’s true that artistes create best under bleak and difficult conditions, then I should’ve had fifty Number One albums out by now! But, uhh, if I had to pick one single favorite song, I guess it would have to be “10,000 American Scuba Divers Dancin’.” How about you?

Without a doubt, my favorite would still have to be “I’m On Fire.”
What? You mean you don’t like Elvis?!!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DAVE STREET’s in the Wild [1981]

Text by Nancy Foster / FFanzeen fanzine, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen blog, 2017
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written by a Nancy Foster, whose Facebook page is kurrently Kandy Kabot.

Dave Street is an odd duck, and I say that with affection. Sure he was a New York-based punk rock stand-up comic back in the day, but he was also a fan and hung out with some of the illuminous stars in the scene. When this interview occurred, it was while he was working at Natasha’s Clothing Store on St. Mark’s Place when it was still cool. This is an insider’s story about hanging out on the scene.

In the period after the interview, he would go on to appear on Uncle Floyd and The Joe Franklin Show and write songs with Bobby Steele and the Undead which still continues. Lately, he works on environmental projects, and is in the process of making a horror film titled Monster Bizzness. Along with other not-for-profit causes such as programs for teenagers in homeless shelters and detention centers, he still writes and performs at various events. – RBF, 2017

FFanzeen: What was the most memorable thing about your writing period?
Dave Street: Trying to get paid as a freelance writer. That is why I ended up working in the store [Natasha; 1 St. Mark’s Place, NYC – RBF, 1981]. You don’t get paid when you write freelance. Also, interviewing Frank Zappa and trying to avoid the Editor-in- Chief…

FFanzeen: After that, you didn’t really want to be connected with writing anymore – you wanted to be involved with something else, like acting?
Dave: I had a punk acting company. We were called Robot Factory. That was before I was funny. That was when I was still negative and violent. We used to go onstage and give people cancer.

FFanzeen: Where did you do your act?
Dave: Our big thing was that we went onstage before the Dead Boys and the Cramps in Hollywood, on the closing night of the Masque (Club).

FFanzeen: When did you first start doing comedy? Did you tell jokes in school? Were you like a class clown?
Dave: No, actually, I’ve led a very painful life, to the point where I was either going to hang it up, literally, or start laughing at myself. I was forced to become a comedian just to be able to deal with my own miserable existence. Sniff, sniff, whine, whine.

FFanzeen: Oh, that’s one of those lines like, “Live been asexual for 5 years!”
Dave: I have. No, that really is the truth. At different points I have hated myself, my parents, my family, my employers and everybody else in the world. Not wanting to be a hateful person, the only alternative I had to hating was laughing. This is a very sombre conversation.

FFanzeen: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
Dave: Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Groucho Marx. I’m sure I forgot a few of them, but those are my main ones. Bob Newhart. Yeah, those are my main comical influences. I listened to a lot of old stand-up comedy albums from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

FFanzeen: Do you listen to comedy albums more than you listen to rock’n’roll?
Dave: Now I do, but I used to always listen to rock’n’roll. I’ve only started listening to comedy albums over the last year. It took me about half a year just to get a collection. One thing that is interesting about collecting comedy records is that the comedy records that you can learn much from, like the most radical comedians who are the most against the system, their records cost more than anybody else’s to buy.

FFanzeen: Like who, for instance?
Dave: Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce – their albums cost about $30. But you find a Marx Brothers album and it’ll cost you about $5.

FFanzeen: Do you think that Lenny Bruce was killed? Some people think he was given a hot shot.
Dave: Yeah, they killed him because he was a junkie.

FFanzeen: You get any ideas for routines from living with your boss?
Dave: I sure do! It is a super real reality. What could be the epitome of the worst possible working relationship than living with your boss?! Especially if you want to do something else with your life. It’s depressing and depression makes me funny. Of course, if I wasn’t depressed all the time, I wouldn’t have to be funny. This not just living with my boss; it’s living with and simultaneously trying to avoid…

FFanzeen: When and where was the first time you did your comedy act?
Dave: Before I did my comedy act, I did a one-man show last Fall at Hurrah’s called I am the Center of the Universe. This was an extension of what I had done with the punk acting company. It was like a violent confrontation of self and the whole “Me! Me! Me!” ego of the 70s.

FFanzeen: Did you abuse the audience?
Dave: Yeah. A writer from the New York Post asked me, wouldn’t everybody else and I be happier if I made people laugh with the same energy instead of trying to project my own unhappiness onto the audience and trying to make them as unhappy as I was? …Anyway, I started to think about it and started writing stand-up routines. A month later, I did my first gig at 5 AM at Studio Zero.

FFanzeen: What was the audience’s reaction when you first started this?
Dave: It was like, “Who do you think you are?!” The audience reaction was like one big beer bottle thrown at me.

FFanzeen: Does that mean they like you?
Dave: That means I got a reaction from them anyway, which is better than having them walk away. No one walked away, but a lot of people were antagonized. A lot of people didn’t think what I was saying was funny. They thought it was insulting. A lot of people who share the same pain as I do wanted to laugh at it. But there are others that don’t want to be reminded of it at all. So when I make jokes about it, their attitude is, “I don’t want to hear about that!” The funny thing is that they have that attitude until they meet me. People who threw bottles at me would come in the store with a friend and say, “Hey! I’m the guy who threw the beer bottle at you last week.” And I’d say, “Gee! Thanks! Why’d you do that.” And they’d say that they didn’t agree with what I was saying, but added, “Now that I know you, I’m doing to laugh and I’m going to beat up anyone who does throw a beer bottle!” Note the fact that they still might not agree with me, but the fact that they don’t agree with me has nothing to do with it anymore because they know who I am!

FFanzeen: So, what does that have to do with anything? That you should make friends with the audience so you won’t get killed?
Dave: It shows that the solution is to perform less and throw more parties. I should throw a party before every performance so that everyone knows me. Then, by the time I go on, the whole audience will like me.

FFanzeen: Who was the comedian who opened for the Rockats at the Rock Lounge?
Dave: I don’t talk about other comedians. It is against my principles to talk about anybody who is not helping my career. The only comedian who is helping my career is Tessie Chua, whose movie I am in. I’ve done a film called The Scary Truth About Roaches and Landlords [could not find any reference to the film – RBF 2017], in which I play a deranged tenant, in case you haven’t seen it. It was at the Mudd Club [d. 1983 – RBF, 2017]. Steve Mass [Mudd Club’s owner – RBF, 1981] plays the landlord. He’s one of the main characters. In my scene, I play off Steve Mass. I, of course, have always had a lot of arrogance towards the very premise of the Mudd Club’s existence, so I had a lot of fun working with Steve. I felt a lot of natural hostility in a friendly way [hunh? – NF, 1981] that kind of made it work.

FFanzeen: A love/hate relationship?
Dave: Yeah, it’s like knowing I belong there, but being opposed to being there ideologically [hunh? – NF, 1981]. I am opposed to the fact that there’s someone at the door telling people that they can’t come in [I agreed then and now – RBF, 2017].

FFanzeen: That’s not happening now. They are courting the non-hipsters now, dahling.
Dave: They didn’t let me in last week. I work so hard – 10 hours of the day, every day of the week – and I’m usually too tired to go out at night. But I went there after not being out for about four months, and the doorman didn’t believe that I was Dave Street; so, he didn’t let me in – not because he didn’t know who Dave Street was, but because he thought I was using Dave Street’s name to try and get into the Mudd Club free.

FFanzeen: You should have said you were Gloria Vanderbilt! Oh, I heard that you had a little confrontation with Deborah Harry at the Mudd Club.
Dave: I wish I had. I don’t think I have achieved that world importance yet.

FFanzeen: Tell me about the David Johansen film, Thau in Love [never officially released – RBF, 2017].
Dave: I’m in two brief shots. I might be on the screen two minutes if I’m lucky. But I had a lot of fun working with David. I think David is brilliant at setting up the premise of action – the way he assembled people and set up situations really make it work well.

FFanzeen: Did he write the script, or is he just directing?
Dave: Yeah, he wrote it. I don’t know about other people’s roles, but my script was somewhat improvised – not the storyline, but the actual verbal interaction was partially ad-libbed. I’m in a short shot where I play myself. I come into Marty Thau’s [Red Star Records – RBF, 1981; d. 2014 – RBF, 2017] office. I tell him obnoxious jokes and he blows smoke in my face. In the next scene, I’m a go-go boy.

FFanzeen: What do you wear as a go-go boy?
Dave: I just dressed as a regular person. I just danced funny. As a result of that, I’m working on a whole routine about dancing funny, and I’m in Clem Burke’s video of the Colors, doing the same thing.

FFanzeen: So, you’re broadening your career options? How did you get connected with Johansen?
Dave: He called me up at the store. I do an impersonation of David, too. I do a “Pray-Tell Records” ad which pokes fun at the commercialization of New Wave songs: “Twelve of the greatest unoriginal New Wave hits!” I do David Jo’s grandson doing, “Punky But Weak” [mocking a soulful yet spiritually wracked voice]: “I got a black eye that somebody gave me / When I got into a fight and nobody would save me / I’m punky, punky but weak…” I do that in the film, too, but I might be cut. One never knows what’s going to happen in the editing room. We all know the politics of film are often more important than the actual performances. You can do a great performance and the editor might not like you for personal reasons.

FFanzeen: Do you do spoofs on other rock’n’roll people?
Dave: I do funny marriages. Like if Rachel Sweet married Nick Lowe, she’d be Rachel Sweet’n Lowe. In which case, the FCC would probably find out that listening to her music causes cancer and all her records would have to be taken off the shelves. If Bette Midler married Eddie Money, she’d be Bette Money, but don’t bet your life and never bet more than you can avoid paying back. If Cherry Vanilla married Iggy Pop, she’d be Cherry Pop.

FFanzeen: Yum-yum.
Dave: Fizz, fizz. We completed that routine, anyway.

FFanzeen: Would you ever be part of a comedy duo?
Dave: Occasionally I do do things like that with other people that I can play off of; I’m working on a film script right now with some young people, including Rip Torn’s daughter, Angelica Torn [known as Angelica Page after 2010 – RBF, 2017], and her boyfriend, Joe Witty. It’s going to be a rock’n’roll East Side Kids sort of comedy. It should be about a one hour video.

FFanzeen: When did you get connected with the local rock’n’roll scene?
Dave: I was still living in New Jersey in 1975 [as he does now – RBF, 2017], but I was coming to see the Ramones from the first week they played [1974 – RBF, 2017]. I was hanging out in the scene from the very beginning. I was coming to see the Dolls in the glitter days. I was going to see the Mothers [of Invention] when they were cool, back in 1965. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been coming to New York City since I was 14, seeing these 35 year old guys hanging out in rock’n’roll clubs talking to pretty girls and I said, now I know what I want to do when I’m 35! I don’t want to be a doctor, I don’t want to be a lawyer; I want to hang out in rock’n’roll clubs and talk to pretty girls!

FFanzeen: Do you get a lot of disco-babies coming into the store?
Dave: I sell the exact same clothes to disco people as I sell to punks. Disco people say, “I want these clothes so nobody will say, I’m punk,” and the punks say, “I want these clothes so nobody will say I’m disco.”

FFanzeen: What do you like to do for fun when you’re away from the store?
Dave: I’m not allowed to have fun.

FFanzeen: What about when the two go-go girls came in the store and raped you?
Dave: They broke my year-long asexuality. I said I had sex with them; I didn’t say I had fun with them. I felt an obligation to give in, but I didn’t feel any obligation to have fun. When I get drunk and insult people at the Mudd Club is the only time I ever have fun.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

QUESTION MARK Answers [1981]

Text by Cary Baker / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

At Cavestomp! 2002 - Pic (c) RB Francos
This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by writer-turned-press agent extraordinaire Cary Baker.

There is no denying that “96 Tears,” ? and the Mysterians biggest hit from 1966, has one of the most infectious organ lines in rock’n’roll. I had the good fortune to see the band play in 2002 at CBGBs during “Cavestomp!,” a garage revival showcase series they were headlining. Between songs, he used the term “bay-behhh” a lot, as in “Hello, bay-behhhs. Great to be here, bay-behhh!” Needless to say, they were amazing. – RBF, 2017

Of all rock’n’roll’s “one-hit wonders,” perhaps the least is known of the arcane man by the name of Question Mark (hereafter referred to as “?”) who, with the equally-inscrutable Mysterians, created the Vox-riffing masterpiece of pop ephemera known as “96 Tears.”

The song, innocent as it was when ? wrote “Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying,” has enjoyed a phenomenal revival, thanks more than partially to Garland Jeffreys (who returned it to the Hot 100 this year) and to “Joe “King” Carrasco, whose Mex-merizing version was a live showstopper on last year’s Son of Stiff tour.

Now ? is back with four all-new Mysterians, touring at the peak of commotion brought on by Jeffreys’ cover. And without dispelling too much self-perpetuated “mystery” at the center of his non-myth, ? would like to make a few things crystal clear. Well, translucent, anyway:

Mystery No. 1: While certain rock texts espouse that ? is the nom de disque of Rudy Martinez, the mystery man himself insists it has been legally changed to, well, Question Mark. Asked to see an ID to that effect, he replies that he’s been refused one because no one believes him. Especially the immigration authorities, who deny him passports to the UK. “After all,” he reasons, “anyone can make anything up.”

Mystery No. 2: ? & the Mysterians are not from Brownsville, El Paso, or Austin, but rather from Flint, Michigan. “Outside of town and in the country,” specifically. The other original members (Bobby Bladerrama, guitar; Frank Rodrigues, keyboard; Eddie Serrato, drums [d. 2011]; Frank Lugo, bass guitar; Robert Martinez and Larry Brojas) were from Texas, he explains. Asked if ? himself, of obvious Hispanic descent, was born in Flint, he shrugs, “I won’t say.”

Mystery No. 3: After “96 Tears” topped the charts (the week of October 29, 1966, between “Reach Out” and “Last Train to Clarksville”), ? rebounded with “I Need Somebody” (peaking at No. 22), “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” (No. 36), and “Do Something to Me” (which, karma aside, reached its apex at No. 96). Then, one would have thought, according to all logic, that ? would take the hint and disband the Mysterians. Therein lay Mystery No. 3. Fact is, there has never been a time that ? was without some version of the Mysterians. What’s more, he recorded (though not released) an album every year since 1969. “It was continuous,” he says. “Whoever came in, he was the new Mysterian. But every time I had a new group and it looked right to go on the road, someone would mess it up. I do have albums worth of material for each year.”

Mystery No. 4: A major record trade magazine recently reported that the original Cameo single of “96 Tears” was cut in a garage. Not only is that incorrect, but ? never sought coverage in the magazine. “I just called to see how Garland Jeffreys’ version was doing,” he says. “We were going to play in New York so I thought I’d drop in on ABKCO Records, who took over Cameo.”
* * *
The ? of today is of indeterminate years (“I never tell my age”) and sports a hirsute mane of shoulder-length black hair. Constant are the dark, convex shades that became his trademark a decade before there was a Ramones.

Coming to terms with the New Wave aided his renewed popularity. ? is proud to say that, “Elvis Costello bought an original copy of the 96 Tears album for $250.”

He likes much of what he’s heard, he claims, but doesn’t have a lot of time to spend listening to anyone. “I have heard Kraftwerk,” he says. “They play music with no drummer, no guitarist, no bass player, and no keyboard. Just four guys, and each has an electronic pad. If music goes in that direction, I can’t appreciate it. I wrote a song called, ‘He Plays Guitar.’ In ten thousand years, people are going to ask, ‘What’s a guitar?’ Just get a group of guys up there playing guitar, bass and drums.”

And you didn’t believe he was from within earshot of Detroit?

Central to the ? sound – then and now – is the organ. One hears a lot these days about the Farfisa, the matter-of-fact keyboard that spans an entire four octaves. Vox is the Farfisa’s close cousin, and served the original Mysterians well. “Now the guitar’s more out front,” ? says, “and we’re using a Hammond B-3 instead of a Vox. If I could find one, I’d love to have it because that’s the sound that happened then and can happen now. In Boston, we played with some new group and they had a real Vox. I almost walked out with it.” In an affected tough-kid Mexican inflection, he recapitulates his reaction: “Hey, we need that Vox, you know?!

? has another taboo topic besides his age and birthplace: he refuses to interpret the vision behind his lyrics.

“They’re personal. I write for everybody. I figure everybody has the right to fantasize and put in their own possibilities. As soon as an artist says this song’s about so-and-so, that spoils the mystery.”

Why the recurring theme of mystery in his personal? ? won’t say.

“I didn’t just happen to say, ‘Do this.’ It evolved. See, I’ve been in show business since I was five. I was always dancing, always onstage with lights.

“My parents bought me a tape recorder. They would’ve bought me a piano if I’d wanted. I came from a family of ten, so it wasn’t easy. Anyway, I just sat down in a room and sang whatever was in my head and ‘96’ was one of those songs, instrumental arrangements and all.”

But, ?, is it not correct that Sir Doug’s “She’s About a Mover,” and Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” preceded “96 Tears?”

“Yes, they came out first. But I had “96” conceptualized before they came out. As I said, my parents said they’d finance a piano if I wanted it, but I took a look at all those keys and thought, ‘It’d take forever to play this thing. And I have so much music in my head. I can sing it, but I have to find someone who can play what I hear.’”

? consulted the father of a neighborhood record store clerk who attempted to teach him to read music. “He tried to teach me the ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb” bit, but I didn’t have the time,” ? says, “So, he played ’96 Tears’ and for the first time, I heard the music I’d been hearing in my head, thanks to his old man.

“Right away, I started tracking radio stations, writing down how many times they played each song. People thought I was crazy, but I just had to do it. I mean, one day, I was going to be on the radio,” he says.

“96 Tears” was taped in a friend’s living room on a two-track perched outside on a patio. It was March, and the friend’s storm windows were still in.

“Not very acoustical,” he concedes.

The session cost $50. The organist came up with the two-chord run that set the tenor. “And I told him, ‘Hey, I’ve heard that before.’ Then it dawned on me. I wrote that. The old man at the music shop played it for me.”

“’96 Tears’ hit the top of the pops, while follow-ups were no more household than the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” or the Shadows of Knight’s “Willie Jean.” The band embarked on a Dick Clark tour and played Chicago’s Aragon in 1967 with the Four Seasons and Mitch Ryder. A version of “Do Something to Me” (“a year before Tommy James & the Shondells made it a hit”) made No. 5 in Louisiana and Hawaii, and No. 1 in their native Flint.

“If we’d stuck with original material, I’m convinced people would have related better,” he feels. Instead, producers kept feeding them outside contributions.

The eventual demise was far more external than choice of material. The Cameo label, whose president was Neil Bogart (later of Buddah, Casablanca and Boardwalk), collapsed. And since ? was on the road nearly perpetually, he didn’t hear the news until after the Cameo office phone had been disconnected.

Unreleased albums and countless personnel changes ensued. Finally, when the original organist found he couldn’t get along with the new members, the Mysterians took on a new, low-profile visage “with the guitar more out-front.”

There were plans to tour this year, as with every year prior. And then, suddenly, “96 Tears” was on the radio again, and ? was blown out of the water.

“I’ve never heard of Garland Jeffreys. And a friend called and said she’d heard my song on the radio. So I called the radio station and they played it for me. Then, in Columbus, Ohio, someone that called a radio station wanted to know, ‘Where’s the original Question Mark?’ I guess someone from Flint had a sister in Columbus. The DJ said, ‘If you know where he is, call us. If you have an original copy of the record, we’ll pay you $200.’ It just created a whole new interest.

“I like the Jeffreys version. He really listened to the bass line,” ? adds.

In concert, the new Mysterians have a Detroit sound and have the tendency to illuminate a ‘70s influence more than a ‘60s or and ‘80s one. Mitch Ryder’s current band comes to mind, as do the Rockats. And to the letdown of many, ? saves “96 Tears” until the tail end of the second set.

* * *
Mystery No. 5: This tour has been said to be a cash-in on the Tex-Mex craze with no more artistic merit than the return of, say, the Grass Roots or Crazy Elephant.

“I never get sick of doing my songs,” ? says. “One thing about a good song is that you can do it anytime. The band (conducting their soundcheck as we spoke) is playing, ‘Do Something to Me,’ which I recorded in ’68. It still sounds good to me. It doesn’t have to have a time period. If I’d done something disco, someone would have said, ‘Well, that’s good but it’s disco,’ and they wouldn’t appreciate it five years from now.

“That’s the one thing about an original: you can do it any time. The songs relate to any time anyone wants them to.

A later version remake:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: Lost Rockers, by Steven Blush (etc.)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Live images by Robert Barry Francos
Book cover image from Internet

Lost Rockers: Broken Dreams and Crashed Careers
By Steven Blush, with Paul Rachman and Tony Mann
powerHouse Books (Brooklyn, NY), 2016
160 pages (hardcover); USD $15.00

If the name Steven Blush sounds familiar, I’m guessing it is due to his previous seminal book, American Hardcore. Presently, he is assisted by Paul Rachman, who directed the 2006 documentary based on that first book, and by Tony Mann. who has drummed with just about everyone in the New York scene.

Tony Mann
Anyway, the book looks at some might-have-beens in the music biz in the past few decades, essentially some who had a touch of major stardom, coming thisclose, but who had it evaporate into the clear blue, be it through wrong timing, sometimes by the fault of third parties such as record companies, bitter rivalries, or occasionally by shooting themselves in the foot by the likes of ego or substance abuse.

While I’m not amazed that there are quite a few I have never heard of before this, I am even more stunned at how many I have seen in both their heydays and beyond. I will indicate those I have watched perform with a [*].

If you’ve been around any music scene for a while, you must know some bands that deserved the break and never got it. Off the top of my head, I think of the Marbles and the original formation of the Shirts, and of course the Dictators from New York, Willie Loco Alexander in Boston, the Jumpers from Buffalo, and I would even add in the Cramps to that list. Most of them were signed to major labels at some point, or on the verge of it, and then it all just went away.

There are 20 musicians (rather than bands) covered here. Some had relatively major hits, such as the opening article subject, Evie Sands, who was the first to record the classic Chip Taylor tune “Angel of the Morning.” Then there’s Robert Fleischmann, the original singer for Journey and Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Marc Bolan’s common-law wife and baby mama Gloria Jones is here, her career evaporating when the car she was driving crashed, which ended Bolan’s life.

Corpse Grinders
But not everyone has star turns, though should have, such as Gass Wild [*], who helped form the Pretenders, though I saw him in a version of the Love Pirates at Otto’s Shrunken Head in the early 2000s. I met him through the band The She Wolves, whose drummer was Tony Mann. Rick Rivets [*] was in a couple of bands I saw in the early New York scene days, the Brats and Corpse Grinders.

One of the people here who is not just famous but also a bit infamous is Cherry Vanilla [*], an ex-groupie who helped Bowie and MainMan conquer the States. She was at the forefront of the Max’s scene, and I saw her on a stunning bill with the Fast and (then) Wayne County in late ’76 or early ‘77. Some of her band members back then would be part of the core of Get Wet, another deserving band that almost broke and could be included in a sequel.

Cherry Vanilla
An interesting inclusion is Chris Robison [*], who was sort of an early sexually fluid musician who flowed between men and women (similar to Bowie and Lou Reed). As well as a solo act, he was associated with the touring band Steam (“Na Na Hey Hey [Goodbye]”). Also, he played with Elephant’s Memory (he may have been in the band when I saw them at Prospect Park with Brownsville Station opening) and the local New York group Stumblebunny (they opened for Peter Tork at CBGBs in ‘77, but I have no memory of the band).

Marge Raymond in Flame
One of the rockers in the ‘70s I really enjoyed was Flame, fronted by Marge Raymond [*], who is represented here. I saw the band play at Zappaz in Brooklyn in 1977. She’s in a ‘50s/’60s cover band now. Which brings me to a point: Marge seems pretty happy now, and who knows if “success” would have made an end-total betterment or crashing of a lived life. I mean, do you get the feeling that someone like, say, Axl Rose or Alan Price or Tommy Lee are actually happy in their relative career success?

Yes, there are certainly some depressing tales here, such as with Bobby Jameson [d. 2015], whose life has been street hardcore after the near-fame, but for most here, there is still wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ going on, and some positive thoughts. Most are still making music on their own terms and through the book we learn that they deserve our respect.

Most of the pieces tend to run a couple of pages, though a few are nicely quite lengthy. There are also lots of photos, of which the “now” pictures particularly interested me; for example, Cherry Vanilla has not lost her zing at all.

Blush, who conducted all the interviews himself, does a fine job of keeping the interest of the reader. I found that even with those of whom I was unfamiliar, my curiosity was kept whetted and I read the articles through. At first I wished there was a disk of some of the music included, but then I remembered YouTube, so I could check to see what some of the recordings were like (especially check out Flame’s “Beg Me” and Cherry Vanilla’s “The Punk,’ but I digress…).

As a side note, I found it interesting that producer Jimmy Iovine makes more than one appearance as being a hindrance (personally, I find a lot of his stuff overproduced and clinical, but that’s for another day). The only real issue I had with the writing itself was the overuse of the term “left high and dry,” but that’s just the nitpicking hell that my brain does. Point is, if the repetition of that phrase is the worst I can come up with, well, that’s saying a lot in favor of release.

This is not the first book to be written about cult artists who never broke the big time. For two examples, there are Jake Austen’s Flying Saucers Rock’n’Roll: Conversations with Unjustly Obscure Rock’n’Soul Eccentrics (reviewed by me HERE) and Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses, Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More. Each one has its own take on the lives and output of the musicians under the microscope.

While Blush takes a deep look at some of the artists, he does not analyze the music, and I feel the book is the better for it. He doesn’t talk down to the reading audience, which also makes sense, because the person who has the book in-hand most likely has a history of following music to some extent, and probably will have some knowledge of at least some of those discussed.

The name of the book is a slight misnomer, I’m happy to say, because it is not only rock that is covered, as there is both soul and folk included in the batch. Still, I would not change the title.

I’m pleased to know that as with American Hardcore, a documentary film version of this book is in post-production by Rachman. As much as I enjoyed reading this, I am also looking forward to the film. While there probably will be music in the documentary, this book is still essential, and certainly worth the read.

As a brief post-note, Blush actually has a new book out since this once came out last year, titled New York Rock: From the Rise of the Velvet Underground to the Fall of CBGB. I'm hoping to get the chance to check that one out, as well! 

Musician subjects in book:
Evie Sands
Alan Merrill
Chris Robison
Ginger Bianco
Brett Smiley
Betty Davis
Pat Briggs
Bobby Jameson
Rick Fox
Charlie Farren
Gloria Jones
Chris Darrow
Gass Wild & Johnny Hodge
Rick Rivets
Cherry Vanilla
Robert Fleischman
Kenny Young
Marge Raymond
Jake Holmes

Saturday, June 10, 2017

CD Reviews: June 2017

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet
Reviews are in alphabetical order, not by ranking

Against the Grain
Road Warrior
Self-Destructo Records
First of all, I am assuming they’re named after the Bad Religion album. That being said, AtG are an interesting mix between punk and metal, and on their fourth full play release, they keep flipping between the two from song to song. For example, “Til We Die” and “Afraid of Nothing” are nearly hardcore speed with guitar solos, yet “What Happened?” and “Sirens” is total headbanging metal crash of guitars. It’s all very mid-‘80s SoCal, even though they’re actually from Detroit. The band is pretty damn tight; from what I understand, this was recorded after a tour, the best time to hit the recording studio when you’ve got the songs right where you want them (though many bands do it the other way around, to promote the record rather than to practice them). Nice growl, two buzzsaw guitars, and down and dirty licks.

Antique Scream
Two Bad Dudes
Self-Destructo Records / Pyramid
The group sounds like so much more than having only two members: Christopher Rutledge on vox and guitar, and William Fees on drums. Their sound is definitely metal. For example, the opening cuts, “Golden Goddess I” and “Golden Goddess II” have a riff that is reminiscent of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Come to think of it, “Black Magic I” and “Black Magic II” are reminisce of the bridge to “White Room” (other than a really long drum solo in the first, and a weird effects-laden guitar in the second). In fact, Cream is a really good reference point for much of what they do, if J Mascis replaced Clapton. Basically, it’s two bad dudes bashing out some tunes in a studio instead of on a corner with a hat, except with some decent songs like “Thee Intimidator,” though I wish they had turned the vocal reverb down; then again it does help give it that full-volume 1960s psychedelic blues rock sound. By the end it was feeling a bit tedious, but I’m not sure if that’s because guitar solos tend to wear on me, if the echo was overwhelming when trying to make out the lyrics, that the songs tend to be 4 or 5 minutes long, or that most of the songs are repeated in different versions. It’s not bad, but definitely needs something more. Bet they’re fun live, though.

Audioscam 3
This 4-song EP is by is a fun Aussie band that has a strong early ‘70s pop sound. Picture a cross between the Beach Boys and the Raspberries. The songs are upbeat and what Howard Kaylan once called “Good Time Music.” Songs about attraction, smiles and other upbeat notions wrapped along some catchy riffs makes this a breezy and fun listen.

Dave Nelson & the 32nd Street Quintet
32nd Street
Self-released /
I met Dave through his work with the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band. He stands out as the older white guy on trumpet, but fits in so well. But it did not surprise me when I found out he fronts his own jazz combo. Recently I reviewed his latest release, but this one which is a bit older still deserves some attention and love. Also recorded in my home ‘hood of Brooklyn, this is a mixture of originals and covers, focusing on Nelson’s horn, which especially shines on the title track. It’s easy to tell that John Coltrane is an inspiration, and not just because this group covers his version of “My Favorite Things” here, but the level of experimentation and taking chances carries it beyond the “Easy Listening Jazz” descriptor on the cover. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of “Lite” or “Easy Listening,” but this is much better than that describes, and certainly goes beyond that. Sure, a couple of numbers come close to that (especially the two with vocals), and there are some nice rhythmic riffs in pieces like “20th Century Blues,” but, there is so much interesting stuff going on throughout that you really get a feel for the Quintet (who all get their individual share of the spotlight), especially the pushing of Nelson’s horn envelope. He plays well against Joel Frahm tenor sax, much as Satchmo did with Higginbotham on my favorite Armstrong version of “St. Louis Blues.” 

Feed the Kitty
Westbound & Down
I had a brief moment of country music love in the late 1970s, possibly a reaction to the Nashville soundtrack, but though it was a passing phase that ended with the “pop” influence on the style, I learned to appreciate it as a form. Most of modern country is, well, bland, but every once in a while a musician (such as Angela Easterling or Laura Cantrell) or band catches my attention. This is true of Feed the Kitty. While it’s not all pure country, it mixes a lot of other elements from rock to funky wah-wah guitars to give their songs some power. But it’s the harmonies that I think stand out the most. It’s hardly surprising it’s so tight, considering they play 300 shows a year. Though situated in SoCal, their Tucson background shows in such numbers as “Road Less Traveled,” “California Country Girl,” “Westbound,” “Human Race,” the ballad “I’m to Blame,” and the humorous “Sorry.” Lots more of the cuts are worth listening, with little filler. If you like country or a variation thereof, it’s a smooth listen, like a Jack and cigar.

Jeffland 12
No Condiments, PLEASE
Jeffland is essentially poet Jeff Mastroberti. Much as Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye did in the early ‘70s, Jeff does some newer readings of a dozen of his poems from his book by the same name, which came out in 2012 (the text has about 40 pieces), set to music. Jeff’s a great guy, and I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with him a couple of times, including once when I was kicked out of a Starbucks (but that’s another story). I’ve read the book of poetry, and it’s definitely a mixed bag. Some of it is quite meaningful and touching, and some is, well, okay. Now, I fully admit that I am not a poet nor an English major, so I’m looking at this more as how it affects me, since poetry tends to be more abstract than most writing (especially more than my own). With this CD (or whatever medium you play your music), the poems take on a fuller shade than just on the page. Having the artist read his own material definitely helps. There’s quite a bit of angst in here (e.g., “I will be a clown when my death comes,” or “My brain is cotton candy sitting by the drain”). A couple of songs in a row are lists based on the questions “Why” and “What is Reality?” “Kimberly” is one of the stronger cuts, and even the written version is nicely done with a secondary message. “Post 9/11” is another strong cut and poem. Come to think of it, the whole second half is pretty damn good. Jeff has a good voice for this kind of speak/singing reading, with a voice that’s musical without being too lulling.

Johnny Winter with Dr. John
Live in Sweden 1987
Everything is stripped down on this show, with Winter’s band made up as just a trio, featuring Jon Paris (bass and harmonica) and Tom Compton (drums), with Dr. John jumping in for a few songs. It starts off strong, with them belting out a bluesy version of the zydeco classic “Sound the Bell.” The band has obviously been playing this number a while because they seem quite at ease with it, yet never letting its proverbial throat go throughout. This is also true with Lee Baker Jr.’s “Don’t Take Advantage of Me” where, they add some solid rock into the mix towards the end. They swing into a slide version of J.B. Lenoir’s Son House-meets-Nawleans-style acoustic-gone-electric slow burn boogie Blues of “Mojo Boogie,” which is a perfect way to set up the introduction of Dr. John’s version of the boogie that made him so popular among the Creole set. A few rattling tinkles on the keys, they break into a Dr. John original, “You Lie Too Much.” Even with the mixing of some of styles, Winter and John fit like two gloves with fingers intertwined. John does take the lead on the vocals for these numbers, with Winter and Paris doing back-up. Together yet, they break into the slow burner “Love, Life and Money” (originally recorded by Little Willie John), again sharing duties by alternating the song, split down the middle, growl for growl. There needs to be some kind of rave up after a soul pulling number like that, so to rev it up for the finale they cover “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I’ve always wondered if Keef was a bit jealous of Winter’s agility on the fretboard. John and Johnny both sing on the chorus and it’s a not always a pretty blending, but they play it so well, it’s easily forgivable. There is also an extended DVD of this show available.

Jonny Manak & the Depressives
Cold Pizza & Warm Beer
Self-Destructo Records / Reach Around Records
Wow, nice throwback to the ‘70s New York Scene. Imagine a possible cross between, say, the Dead Boys, the Ramones, and the Mumps. Yeah, it’s that weird a combination, and then add in a measure of adolescent mentality with songs like “Vegass,” “You Give Me Goosebumps,” “Powder to Blow,” “Monsters” (which has a Ramones’ “Chainsaw” chorus of “Oh no / Oh yeah”), and “Motorpsycho.” Then there’s covers of the likes of GG and the Jabbers’ “Don’t Talk To Me” (done like Manak, not Allin) and the Saints’ “New Race.” Like an LP, this is broken up into two sections (rather than sides). The first, Cold Pizza, are more throwbacks, but it’s the second section, “Warm Beer,” that stands out as more energetic, again more Ramones-like, and more enjoyable (that’s more, not instead of, as both are fun). “Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a good example of how entertaining they can be.

High Water
This is the band’s first release in over a quarter of a century, after being dropped by a major label in the early 1990s. I can understand why they get associated with the band Rhino Bucket (see review below): they follow a similar timeline including their hiatus period, reforming in the new millennium in a revised personnel format, and now they’re both on Acetate. Junkyard tends to be also associated with the sound of Southern Rock. While I can see that to some extent, I think that is exaggerated, since they come across as more metal with just a smidge of punk thrown in. The songs are catchy (and mostly about drinkin’, not surprising considering the CD art), with repeatable choruses, such as “Cut From the Same Cloth,” “Hellbound,” “Hell or High Water,” and “’Til the Wheels Fall Off.” There’s just the right amount of harmonies to fill out David Roach’s razor tenor vocals (which occasionally sounds weirdly like he’s from the Psycotic Pineapple). There is a bit of a dichotomy when it comes to styles. For example, “Styrofoam Cup” and “Don’t’ Give a Damn” can be seen as new Country rock, but then there’s “We Fuck Like we Fight (WFLWF).” I was taken by surprise how much I enjoyed this, especially the hyper “Wallet.” Man, my tastes are adapting, and I’m glad.

Peter Pan Speedrock
Buckle Up and Shove It!
Self-Destructo Records / Steamhammer
A really nice punk metal release from this Dutch band that had been around for two decades. The sound is a bit like a steamroller with a chainsaw on front. Sadly, this was their last album before parting ways last year. It’s no nonsense, though tongue is kept in cheek as far as lyrics go, but they are a powerhouse in sound. Wow. Great stuff that is more than just a reliance on Motörhead, especially with Lemmy-ish vocals. After a meh opening cut, “Get You High,” the bar gets raised and stays there in full thrash mode. Okay, well, I may have to explain that a bit. First, there is a couple of great covers here, including the Damned’s early “New Rose” and a strange version of the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul.” The other point I should note is the title cut is an astoundingly great pop punk piece that puts bands like Blink 182 and Green Day to shame. Even with a couple of silly drinkin’ songs, his is a fun collection and is highly recommended.

Randy Woods Band
Randy Woods Band
Randy used to front a Saskatoon-based band called Absofunkenlutely who were fun, even though they tended to dip a bit into disco territory. His new material is better. In fact I have just come from seeing the band perform less than an hour ago. The RWB is excellent and tight, and this collection is a good representation. The production levels are pretty high, but that’s what Randy does, produces and engineers music (such as the Oral Fuentes Reggae Band). For his new collective, well, it seemed appropriate for him to open with “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard,” because that “chica-chica” and horn sound can give you some idea of what’s on the album (though that song isn’t). In fact, “Charisma Free” feels very similar to “Julio.” But the funk/reggae beat is still there in a few numbers, such as the closer, “Faded American.” There isn’t a bad or filler cut on here. Randy experiments a bit with the sound and effects in the studio, but rather than overdoing it, he keeps just the right amount to enhance the sound rather than override it. This is definitely one I’m likely to listen to again.

Rhino Bucket
The Last Real Rock N’ Roll
The SoCal band has been around in some form since the late 1980s, except for a nearly decade long “hiatus” in the ‘90s that led to some personnel changes. They are described as “hard rock” and yeah, that’s pretty accurate. But they also have a very dated feel, like they’re still on the Wayne’s World soundtrack. That’s not meant as an insult, just an observation for those who are sentimental for that sound. The songs are catch-riddled, with foot-pounding, fist-pumping rock riffs that are perfect for air guitar, such as with “Last Call” and “It’s a Sin” (as well as many others). Despite the changes, vocalist Georg Dolivo remains constant, so there is a consistency through the decades. The heaviest song, “The Devil You Know,” is held for last. The subtle level of pop that runs through most of the riffs between the guitar solos makes this radio-friendly, and really should be there, as they have a very marketable sound, even if they’re getting’ up there in years.

The Supermen
Back with a Gang Bang!
Self-Destructo Records

Do you ever think back and miss those days of punk bands that purposefully tried to offend in as many ways as possible? Some did it in ways that felt like it was a show, but bands like this one seem to come by it naturally, which gives some credence (or at least tolerance) to songs like “Girls Like Sperm,” “White Women in Distress” and “Fitness Model Mother Fucker (FMMF)” Musically, the band plays pretty straight forward punk songs with chantable choruses, especially “Blood, Honor & Pussy,” and “Devious One.” If you’re tolerant, this is actually a pretty decent piece, in some ways reminding me of Motörhead for style – though without Lemmy’s vocals; that being said, Mike Tyson’s vox do just fine for this. It’s kick ass, even though, as someone else once said, he gives the same tone and energy in every song which have very similar feels to them (people have also said that about the Ramones, remember?). That is to say, enjoy it or get the fuck out of the way!